The Sounds of Memory

I went time-travelling this morning, cast adrift by a sound that echoed out of the mist above my head. I found myself back on my Grandpa's farm, a little place scratched out of the pine woods near Fairchild, Wisconsin.

Visiting Grandpa Flick was always an adventure; I don't think his place had changed much since World War II. He never had indoor plumbing, so we used to fight for the privilege of swinging on the handle of the cast-iron pump and catching ice-cold water to drink in the handle-less tin dipper.

Of course, that meant we had to patronize that other exemplar of outdoor plumbing: the weathered wood outhouse, back by the garage. I remember the splintery seat, the big brown spider spinning a web above the door, the can of barn lime you dashed down the hole in the summer to keep the smell more or less under control.

Unlike our farm, Grandpa didn't have any close neighbors. It seemed like the forest crowded in right up to the fence-line, thick and dark and impenetrable. Strange noises came out of it, screams and chitters and a harsh, almost metallic "deed-deed-deed." I imagined all manner of creatures, from lynx to bobcat to pterodactyl (I always was an imaginative child), just on the other side of the barbed wire.

Today, of course, I recognize the screams and chitters as blue jays and red squirrels, disputing over who had title to all the ripe pine seeds. And that eerie, metallic three-note call belongs to the chickadees that flocked invisible in the fog above my head this morning.

Chickadees have been visible on my pottery lately, on plates, pastas and pie dishes, mugs and bowls, bakers and cookie jars, pitchers and sugar bowls.